One Man and his Sheep 1989
Polychromed wood on marble floor
Ana Maria Pacheco (b 1943)
“This piece explores the complex and strange rituals and power structures that humans create.”
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery display notes.
The person who blogs as Still Outside Authority is known for giving gnomic titles to WordPress posts: the latest landscape line drawings are headed “Under the Gibbet“. There is something of David Lynch in this linking portentous words to image.
Yesterday, OA and I walked the canals between Manchester Piccadilly Station and the artspace HOME. Here was my last sketch, coloured this morning in conte crayon and watercolour, having first been re-inked to obliterate the heavy black lines in the original on-site drawing. A cleverer artist would have left that expanse of water as white paper, with a minimum of lines to suggest ripples.
We had visited the exhibition My Head is Disconnected: visceral drawings and relief paintings by David Lynch (open just one more week). In these images, we meet recurring characters and a house motif. This is not a storyboard, rather each individual picture might stand for a whole film, the series connected by a single director. Each work encapsulates the totality of narrative and dialogue, characterisation, build-up and climax and resolution, tone and mood in unmoving shapes and cryptic utterances. We fill in the gaps (the missing 90 minutes of film) in our responding imaginations. That recurrent house icon is clearly, very much, not safe as houses. We see “light fire boy” and the caption beneath “meiah is a girl who he likes AA lot”; “Who is outside my house” which throws out a poignant thought about the dog; “Her shadow began to change“; “Bob’s antigravity factory” with the artists fingers clawing through the think earthbound paint; “A lonely figure talks to himself softly” standing in a storm, expressing the thought common to us all; and Bob’s meeting Mr Redman is not welcome at all.
An afternoon in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden geared my brain for observing the landscape in Cornwall, where she spent much of her life. Apparently Hepworth pioneered the idea of the pierced object in abstract sculpture, an idea developed famously by Henry Moore. The Tate’s notes on this piece “Sphere with inner form” describe the “smooth thin shell, punctured by circular and oval openings, covers the crusty inner form, which is also pierced. The warm brown patina of the outer surfaces contrasts with the green of the interior faces and the inner form”. I reflected on these comments “she drew attention to the relationship between ‘an inside and an outside of every form … a nut in its shell or of a child in the womb, or in the structure of shells or of crystals, or when one senses the architecture of bones in the human figure'”. Is this a particularly female perspective or simply a mark of a great artist, who can express the vitality beneath the surface?
I began my sketch drawing freehand with the brushpen and then with fountain pen loaded with india ink. It was later that I worked colour back in, using watercolour, and conte crayon both as a resist and as an opaque layer on top.
The Tate’s notes on Hepworth’s 1966 piece “Spring” draw attention to its ovoid shape, in short, it is an egg. This relates to ideas of nature’s cycles and rebirth (and therefore also death or dormancy too? The notes don’t say this). As with “Conversation with Magic Stones“, this idea had been developed through multiple versions, with previous iterations carved in wood, the painted smooth shell contrasting with the coarse grain of the interior. I loved that the pierced interior is strung through and through with threads. I wanted this to make music – a stone lyre.
I walked round this piece “Bronze Form (Patmos)“, holding open the shutter of the iphone camera, distorting it so I could see three sides together. The critical feature of this sculpture is the enclosed space, within the bronze shape that folds over it like a wave. It was inspired by her time on the Greek island of that name.
My immediate response to Bronze Form was to see, not the space within as Hepworth intended, but the outer shell as the twin-arched saurian skull, that heavy block of bone evolved to develop piercings and pillars, lightening the load and providing a framework for powerful muscles.
I wrote on the page “Sculptures built of space and pillars, like huge distorted saurian skulls. Others solid but holes strung with strings like a stone lyre”. I reflected that these shapes seemed natural “set against the more unnatural forms of the the cultured plants” in the garden.
I found a shady corner on a hot day in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (part of the Tate in St Ives). I had walked through Hepworth’s bronze installation “Conversation with magic Stones“: comprising three standing figures and three low-lying irregular polyhedrals. The notes tell me that though this was a late piece, it was a large-scale realisation of ideas developed through multiple earlier works across several decades. For her, the figures depict something of human relationships: totemic persons in tension with each other, the mythical landscape and magic stones. From my standpoint, I saw the hard-edged uprights alongside the less regular lines of the bamboo setting: the distressed flat metallic surfaces against the smooth natural cylinders.
When I looked at my sketches made over several days in Cornwall, I started to recognise something that Hepworth had been conscious of in developing her work. Here are three of the ten or eleven remaining stones that comprise the Nine Maidens of Boskednan sited in the midst of moorland. These placed stones speak of now unfathomable relationships among the early Bronze Age inhabitants and between them and their surroundings. How did these stones relate to matters of kinship and exclusion, exploitation of resource, search for meaning, and hierarchy of power?
On the coast west of St Ives, I chanced across another stone circle set deeply in the ferns. This was not marked on the map: I cannot say whether this is the work of ancients or a contemporary folly.
Each sketch was started in pen and indelible ink – really an exercise in mark making. However, I then applied conte crayon to give texture and act as a resist for simple watercolour washes.
…King rules or barons rule; we have suffered various oppression, but mostly we are left to our own devices, and we are content if we are left alone.
We try to keep our households in order; the merchant, sly and cautious, tries to compile a little fortune, and the labourer bends to his piece of earth, earth colour, his own colour, preferring to pass unobserved.
Now I fear disturbance of the quiet seasons: winter shall come bringing death from the sea, ruinous spring shall beat at our doors, root and shoot shall eat at our eyes and our ears, disastrous summer burn up the beds of our streams and the poor shall wait for another decaying October.
Murder in the cathedral: part I. T.S. Eliot
I used my holiday in Mallorca to think more consciously about using types of marks in drawing, rather than a style founded more in optimism than skill.
Alfred Stevens 1817-75 “Truth and Falsehood”: Truth tears out the double tongue of Falsehood and pushes aside the mask concealing his grotesque features. His serpent tails are exposed beneath the drapery. The group and its companion, “Valour and Cowardice”, are full size models for the bronze groups on the huge monument to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral. London. Plaster. [explanatory notes on plaque, Victoria and Albert museum].
The current relevance of the statue is immediately obvious. However, my mind was thrown back to 1999 when a cabinet minister declared eloquently “If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it”. The resulting action led to his being jailed for perjury. I am sure the image shown here is of Truth defeating what were then Falsehoods which we now hold true: religious dogma defeating rationalism, self interest overcoming balanced enquiry, empire over civil society, autocracy scourging democracy. When the powerful shout loudly about the lies of others and frustrate open scrutiny, it is to cover their deceits.
Here are alternative versions of my sketches undertaken at the Victoria and Albert a week ago, reworked with conte crayon, paint, knife and (in the third image) digitally enhanced black tones. Rodin’s tortured twisted Muse spoke of a deeper truth than Stevens’ allegorical statue, of the anguish and beauty of human existence. The theatre masks are props to tell a fictional narrative but when the narrative finishes, the masks are removed.